Insights & Resources7 min read

Introduction to IoT Devices and Products

Learn how IoT devices are fundamentally changing the world for the better, and helping businesses reach new heights.

Brian Segal
Wearable watch IoT device
The internet of things (IoT) is a rather broad and vague concept. Exactly what is this internet? And what things are connected to it?
A loose definition is that the internet is a network for transmitting data and the things are the IoT devices which are connected to this network. But you’ll need more detail to really understand what IoT devices are, and what products and services they make possible.

What are IoT Devices?

IoT devices are devices which connect to a larger, internet-connected device. IoT device examples are sensors of all types, cameras, microphones, and RFID transmitters. These devices collect data and send it to a data processing unit that either uses the data or forwards it to a remote device for processing.
Typically, IoT devices only collect data. Very rarely does an IoT device process data or store it for any significant period of time. IoT devices are almost always only responsible for data collection and transmission.
The collected data is transmitted to an internet-connected central processor where it can be analyzed and used. This central processing computer is frequently called the “cloud.” And the computing hardware may be supplied by a cloud processing service provider. But this central processing computer can also be a privately owned and operated system.
But, in most IoT systems, the IoT devices that collect the data are the star of the show, because the system couldn’t operate without the data input.

Types of IoT Devices

There are several types of IoT devices. Some are easier to spot than others. But almost any electronic device that has a network connection is either an IoT device or has an embedded IoT device. The types of IoT devices range from simple temperature sensors to wireless security cameras.
The list of types of IoT devices is also continually growing as more ways to utilize the internet of things are discovered. These are some of the most common types of IoT devices in use right now:
  • Sensors
    Sensors are one of the oldest and most common types of IoT devices. Optical sensors for automatic street lights, temperature sensors for smart thermostats, and the internal sensors embedded in industrial machinery are examples of IoT sensors.
  • Security Devices
    Smart home security cameras and audio recording devices are already relatively common in residential, commercial, and industrial spaces. But IoT motion sensors are also often included as part of more advanced security systems.
  • Smart Wearable Devices
    Smart wearable technology is one of the most recognizable IoT devices. Right now, most wearables are watches and earbuds. But smart glasses and other augmented reality devices are coming soon.
  • Intelligent Appliances
    Smart thermostats, intelligent refrigerators, and connected televisions rely on IoT devices to gather environmental information and make the appropriate adjustments.
  • Actuators
    Most IoT devices specialize in gathering environmental data. Actuators specialize in receiving instructions from other IoT devices and are equipped with the mechanics needed to make physical changes based on the data gathered by other IoT devices.
Each IoT device performs a different function within an IoT system. But, no matter what they do, all IoT devices require some sort of IoT network connectivity for data transfer. This connectivity is where most of the major concerns about IoT devices come from (more on those concerns shortly).

IoT Device Examples in Our Daily Lives

Some IoT device examples are more obvious than others. But, even if you don’t notice them, chances are that you interact with at least one IoT device each day. IoT technology has been adopted in almost every business sector, and consumer IoT devices are nearly ubiquitous.
These are a few of the most notable IoT device examples:
  • IoT Home Devices
    Not only do most people interact with an IoT home device at some point during their day, many people probably own at least one IoT home device. Smart thermostats, intelligent light bulbs, connected smoke detectors, and smart door locks are some common IoT home devices.
  • IoT medical devices have revolutionized the healthcare industry by enabling better diagnosis, treatment, and more complete remote medical care. Internet-connected heart monitors, smart blood sugar sensors, and even internal sensors that monitor the contents of a patient’s stomach have made it possible for doctors to care for more patients with better health data.
  • Consumers may not interact with industrial IoT devices as often. But industrial IoT devices like efficiency and wear sensors make things better for consumers by reducing the cost of everything from food, to clothing, to electricity.
As more IoT devices and solutions are developed, even more everyday examples of IoT devices will pop up.

How IoT Devices are Connected

Given how small they are, it may not be readily apparent how IoT devices are connected. Typically, IoT devices connect to a wireless network that’s built to share the information those IoT devices collect. IoT devices often transmit data over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular networks.
The type of network IoT devices connect to is determined by how far the device needs to send data, how much data the device needs to send that data, and how much power the device has available for data transmission.
For instance, wifi networks work well for home IoT devices, because those devices are often plugged into an A/C power outlet, which provides enough power to run a wifi connection. Conversely, many wearable devices use Bluetooth because it requires minimal power. Wired IoT networks are less common because they aren’t ideal for how IoT devices communicate in most use cases.

Components of IoT Devices

The components of IoT devices can be divided into two core categories: data collection components and data transmission components.
Typically, the data collection component is a sensor of some sort. This could be an optical or temperature sensor, an RFID or digital antenna, or even an electrical current sensor. Regardless of what the device senses, the sensing component is there to gather information and convert it into numerical data for computer processing.
The data transmission component is usually an antenna. The transmitting antenna relays collected data to the IoT device management platform that handles the data collected by all the IoT devices on the network.
Some IoT devices may also have data storage components. But these are usually very small. IoT devices only store data to manage network traffic, as IoT network data protocols are often designed only for low volumes of data.

Major Concerns Regarding IoT Devices

Broadly speaking, there are two major concerns regarding IoT devices: IoT device security and network security. An unsecured IoT device can lead to severe data breaches. Securing IoT devices and managing the security for IoT connections is critical.
Often, consumers don’t realize that their IoT devices need to be secured. So they never set a password or configure the onboard IoT security for the device. This creates a rather severe security flaw.
However, that flaw is amplified because a single connected IoT device has connections to many other devices. So a single unsecured IoT device could compromise the security of the entire IoT network.
This is why the other major concern with IoT devices is network security. It’s nearly impossible to keep all the IoT devices on a network secure all the time. Therefore IoT networks must be built with IoT device monitoring and safeguards to limit what can be accessed from a breached IoT device.

Number of IoT Devices Today

Currently, the number of IoT devices in the world stands at over 31 billion devices. That number is anticipated to grow to 35 billion in 2021. And the global IoT market is expected to top $124 billion by the end of 2021.
And this growth will likely continue. The growth of IoT has been accelerating since the first smart device was created in 1990 by John Romkey. Every second, 127 new IoT devices are powered up. Which means that over the next years and decades, the IoT industry is going to blow up, and we’ll be using IoT for more things than ever before.

What the Future of Iot Holds

The future of IoT looks very strong. By 2025, the number of IoT devices is expected to reach over 75 billion internet-connected IoT devices. This will pave the way for a global IoT device market that’s worth about $1.1 trillion dollars and supplies devices for nearly every industry.
The IoT trends point to smaller, more capable IoT technology. This will enable better smart wearable devices that are less intrusive, like smart glasses that look and feel like standard glasses. This also means that IoT sensing devices will be usable in industries where the current generation of IoT devices is either too large or not quite able to perform the needed functions.
The medical industry and industrial production stand to get significant benefits from improved IoT technology, as devices become small enough and capable enough to be used more often in surgery and internal diagnosis. And industrial production facilities will feature more internal sensors and finer adjustments to maximize production and enable businesses to produce entirely new products.
All this makes IoT a great market to get into right now and into the future.
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